As a first timer to 70.3 triathlon distance (half Ironman distance / middle distance) I had explored the calendar of events in the commutable distance from home that are 1. nice and flat (no point in adding any extra challenges into the mix), 2. calm water (most of my open water swimming is in the sea so a nice fresh water reservoir will be a welcome bonus) and 3. not clashing with any holidays. That leaves Grafham, Cambridgeshire. Nowhere near Cambridge. But a lovely little village.
With a few sprint triathlons under the belt it is really is a new discipline to train for. My first ever half marathon is just 2 weeks before and goes by without too many problems. The ride should be just fine. Loads of time has been spent cycling about. The swim. Should be fine, but swimming this distance and staying calm is definitely a challenge. Anyway, the review is on the event, not my training (or lack of).
Grafman triathlon unknowns…..
- How long will it take to register on the day?
- Have I trained hard enough?
- Have I remembered my running shoes?
- How many gels do I need to consume?
- Oh no, I haven't practiced this distance with nutrition!
- I don’t have a race plan!!!
- Is it open roads?
I’m sure most of the legitimate questions could be answered in a few seconds reading their website, but that is much too easy.
So it turns out I haven’t booked any accommodation as I was planning on driving up on the day. 5 days before the event I realise that would mean getting up at 3am, and it doesn’t seem like a very good idea. OK, let’s throw money at the problem. That means hotel accommodation the night before (you can camp but I was too unorganised to look into this). The hotel was about a 4 minute drive from the registration and triathlon start so perfect. Also nice to look out of the hotel window and see bikes on roofs of cars obviously prepping up for the next day.
The registration process the day before was ultra simple and quick. Maybe the entire process took 4 minutes. Even managed a few jokes with the lady writing my race number on my hand in enormous permanent marker. Glad I didn’t pay for the days parking (by accident though). But that now leaves the rest of the afternoon and the entire evening to kill. I’m not sure too much time is a good thing. It was nice to walk in the transition area, find my number for the next day (yes, the end of a row so no losing my bike) and have a look at the swim start and course.
The swim… Yes, it was a mass swim entry. Running in and plunging into the water and racing off in a pack. Well for some it was. I hung out on the left of the pack and took a wide lap. Also the swim was to include an Australian Exit. So after one lap, you leave the water and run past the crowds of people and the waiting photographers only to jump back in and swim another lap.
Rewinding back an hour, showing up at the event, everything was super smooth. Rack up, then race brief. Everyone walked down to the water to be told the drill and what was in store. Very friendly, and easy enough to remember. 2 laps clockwise. The first one longer than the second. Anyone ending up swimming three laps by accident really would need to be delirious or just having too much fun.
Leaving the water there is loads of support. People to help you out if needed. Marshals pointing to the bike transition area and plenty of support in the bike area. A really nice atmosphere, very friendly and a good buzz about it all.
The bike part is on open roads and the traffic is very light, but for the few motorists who attempt to drive the same way as the cyclists it causes a bit of bunching. Being a non-drafting ride it is pretty hard when you can not overtake and there are several people in front. There wasn’t too much of the course like this and after 30k the riders seemed to space out. The first few ks on the bike had a bit of a loop and a small climb and descent. Enough speed from the descent to throw at least one rider into the verge. It was pretty wet the entire time but that's our summer weather for you.
The drink / gel station where pretty efficient. You do not need to stop to be passed water, and energy gels. A few hundred meters after the turning point is a little challenge. See if you can chuck your empties into the skip. Like most events, the road seems to see more action than the bin.
Towards the end of the ride following a marshals instruction to take a left, I am suddenly aware I am the only cyclist about. No one in front. No one behind. I have heard of stories of people making a wrong turn, but I was directed by a marshall. Keep riding on. I approach a hill and see a few other cyclists in the distance. Awesome. I am not lost, but I am catching them up pretty quickly. On the hill whizzing by them I realise they are just casual cyclists (appropriately wearing full weather gear). Keep riding. On the top of the hill I can see other cyclists and they all look like part of the event. Phew.
Back to the transition area and lots of support. Wobble in and then time to run.
The toughest part of the run for me was the last 5 or 6 k when you pass the finish line and run away from the sounds of the tannoy and music. In my mind I had already swum a long way, cycled really hard for a kudos deserved ride and run a considerable distance. But chin up and keep going.
Like the ride the run was a few laps back and forth with feeding at both ends (and in the middle for the run). Some of the runners had an amazing pace but after I had realised I was not getting a PB on the run I took things slightly easier.
From the 70.3 finishers we have to say congratulations to anyone at Ironman 70.3 UK and anyone at Grafman with Nice Tri Events.
It was an excellent organised event. Brilliant atmosphere. And welcoming athletes.
View the full collection of photos on their Facebook page linked below.
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Grafmantriathlon
Further reading on triathlon training.